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Knowledge boost: Rewiring the healthcare workforce

Aug 11, 2022 - Reading time 4-6 minutes

Healthcare Redefined Series

As demand for health care continues to increase, healthcare providers are facing increasing staff shortages in many parts of the world, including the Asia Pacific region. The World Health Organization estimates that by 2035 there will be a global deficit of 12.9 million skilled healthcare professionals (1).

Significant progress has been made in health workforce density over the last 20 years in the Asia Pacific region which has had a positive effect on health outcomes and services in many countries. However, few countries are still yet to reach the WHO threshold of 44.5 skilled health workers per 10,000 population (2). Increased adoption of digital technologies has the potential to significantly relieve strain on the healthcare workforce by streamlining services, increasing efficiency, and strengthening primary healthcare.

This episode of Healthcare Redefined will explore the extent to which workforce shortages are impacting the Asia Pacific region, what factors are driving this and how healthcare systems can adapt to increase health workforce numbers, and crucially how this workforce is being upskilled digitally to improve outcomes.


This episode features:


  • Kylie Woolcock, Acting Chief Executive of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association
  • Kwang Cheak Tan, CEO of the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) in Singapore
  • Fabian Bigar, CEO of MyDigital, a government initiative set up to transform Malaysia into a regional pioneer in the digital economy

Australia has a unique set of challenges related to its health workforce. The country is training doctors at one of the highest rates in the world but has not identified the correct mechanisms or levers to direct the workforce where it is needed, particularly in rural and regional areas where there is a shortfall of doctors and mounting pressure on the public system [3].

As we move forward, it's not going to be enough just to be thinking about numbers and distribution. It really needs to be driven by models of care. And if we're not thinking in that context, we're really not going to leverage some of the opportunities that come both from using our workforce differently, and potentially new roles of workforce, but also the opportunities that come from technology.” 

Kylie Woolcock

acting CEO of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association

30% of APAC healthcare leaders surveyed in the 2021 Future Health Index identified staff inexperience as the biggest internal barrier to the adoption of digital health technologies.

As healthcare becomes increasingly distributed with a mix of in-person and virtual care, how digitally ready is the healthcare workforce in Asia Pacific? And how is the sector adapting education and training to integrate emerging technologies so that the future health workforce is digitally fluent and capable?

Building an agile and digitally capable workforce is one of the main pillars of Malaysia’s Digital Economy Blueprint (4), with education and upskilling/reskilling identified as key enablers. In the context of healthcare, Fabian Bigar describes how a few medical universities are incorporating programs like data analytics at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, but says he’d like to see more.

Healthcare providers are seeking ways to extend the reach of specialist care to communities where experienced staff is in short supply and based on population needs. Digital health technologies can help bridge this gap and extend care to people regardless of geographic location or setting.

In Singapore, we also not just focusing on the healthcare workforce within the hospitals, but really looking at them out in the community, being able to help care for and also keep all Singaporeans healthy, as far and as long as possible. So I think with different approaches, we can really look at optimizing the workforce to deliver the health outcomes that we want.” 

Kwang Cheak Tan

CEO, Agency for Integrated Care, Singapore

Healthcare Redefined is a series commissioned by Philips through the Economist Impact. The program explores the vital issues driving digital change and innovation in the healthcare sector in the Asia-Pacific region.

From leveraging digital health technologies and adopting new models of care, to addressing challenges related to workforce shortages and the impact of the climate crisis; the series will explore the opportunities driven by digital transformation to redefine the future of healthcare delivery in the Asia-Pacific region, while building sustainable and resilient health systems.

Subscribe to the series and learn from the diverse perspectives of regional healthcare leaders, policy makers, and tech players, as they share their insights on the decisive factors redefining the landscape.

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